Oct 28, 2020

Hail Satan. Film review

The role of Satan as 'opposer' is used for political ends in this documentary tale about the struggle for religious plurality in the U.S.

Hail Satan

I wanna be the minority

I don't don’t need your authority

Down with the moral majority

'Cause ’Cause I wanna be the minority

“Minority”, Green Day ‘Minority’ – Green Day

This is the decade of the outrageous. If you want your ideas to be heard in the marketplace, you have to be loud, abrasive and offensive. Donald Trump won an election by being shocking. He said something shocking, ; we were shocked, ; the press was shocked, ; and journalists and talk chat- show hosts talked about how shocking the thing he said was, and in the process amplified it tenfold.

And many people who saw themselves as being outside the mainstream of moderate modernity loved it all. It sucked all the oxygen out of the room, until all that was left was outrage. The important thing to note is : Jeb Bush isn’t president.

Hail Satan?! Is a well-made, considered snapshot of our times, at times funny and at times occasionally deadly serious. The documentary follows the exploits of the The Satanic Temple (TST), its charismatic leader Lucien Greaves and some members of his rag tag band of fellow travellers. If you’re hoping for cackling, dark magic and blood sacrifices, you’re in for a disappointment. These are not the Satanists you’re looking for..

Instead, they’re a thoroughly law-abiding bunch. , civic- minded, even – they clean beaches, remove rubbish from highways (with pitchforks) and collect socks for the homeless. Their brand of Satanism is built on a set of socio-political tenets. , and they preach a Liberal doctrine based on inclusivity and welcoming of the outsider. They’re explicitly pro- LGBT, pro Choice, pro Science an, pro- social justice. Scary, eh!

The Satanic Temple see Satan as the ultimate rebel against the authority of an unjust tyrant. : a male, patriarchal sky god. The role of Satan as 'opposer' is used for political ends in this documentary tale about the struggle for religious plurality in the U.S.. The Hebrew word satan means “adversary”, and indeed, this is one Christian designation for Satanand these TST guys takes that idea and run with it. Its members want to oppose the frightening rise of the Christian Right right in the United States, which have become intertwined in a way manner the Founding Fathers deliberately went out of their way to avoid. There is supposedlyto be a wall between church and State, and in particular no one single religion can be be granted political prominence. But how on earth do you challenge this when the idea of the U.S. as a Christian country has become such an all-powerful orthodoxy, how on Earth can such an idea be challenged?.

Well, here is one way. When when the state of Little Rock in Arkansas decided to put up a monument representing the Ten Commandments on public land outside the Capitol The Satanic Temple (TST) demanded the right to unveil a huge eight-foot statue by its side – of Baphomet, an infernal, winged--goat deity by its side. (TST had attempted to do likewise when another Ten Commandments monument was erected outside the Oklahoma Capitol three years earlier, but Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled that the former be taken down.) When theScottsdale, Arizona city council agreed to allow local religious leaders to lead prayers at the beginning of its city councilassemblies led by local religious leaders –, TST demanded their turn too.

Such stunts challenge authorities to justify their behaviour, and expose hypocrisy. After all, it is difficult to express your support for religious freedom whilst gagging a religion you don’t like.

The main point here is that the TST, gets attention. No news outlet is going to send out a news team out to cover a protest by The Society of American Atheists;However, whic of them is going to be able to ignore the establishment of the TST’s “After School Little Satan” club for children? They come for the sheer audacity of the stunt, but TST uses the attention to speak its truth, and when they do they come across as intelligent, moderate and sensible – which must be incredibly frustrating for the journalists covering them.

I really enjoyed this thought-provoking film, and I recommend it to you highly. However, I won’t be joining the TST anytime soon.

© Nick Julius


Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat …,

Paradise Lost, John Milton

In simpler times, some things were easier to understand. We knew wh were the good guys and who were the bad guys. In Westerns, it was helpfully signalled for us, the Good Guys were wore their white hats, and the bad uys wore by their black ones. The badder a bad guy was, the more black he wore. “Hail Satan?” sweeps away any hope for of such a simple conventions. The heroes and heroines of this film documentary are followers, (or worshippers, or admirers, – I never really worked out which term was appropriate, ) of Satan. Without any recourse to supernatural entities or magical action at a distance, the thoroughly modern Satanist turns out to be a fan of Lucifer’s heavenly disobedience, of his asking God: “Who put you on the throne of Heaven”?

Satanists seem to be self-identified outsiders, for reasons of religion, politics, gender or sexuality, who find themselves at odds with the vangelical domination of political discourse in the US. The focal point o the Satanists’ campaigns is the increase inefforts to insert explicitly Christian religious values in law, or to place Christian symbols in public spaces or on government property. As illustrated above, Satanists appeal to the non-sectarian and secular constitution of the United States, when they claim their right to have their invocations heard wherever prayer is allowed in legislatures, and demand the right to put up statues of Baphomet near where a legislature such as Oklahoma has placed a stone tablet of wherever the Ten Commandments are enshrined outside government buildings.

The point is that underneath the dead pan trolling of the utterly humourless evangelical Christian zealots there lies a very serious purpose. In a world where entertainers occupy serious positions of power, and jokers – or even outright jokes – hold high office, it seems that wry humour may be the best means to deal with serious issues of consequence.

Satanists are the ones at the forefront of the fight for religious freedom and diversity. One feels that Muslim, Jewish and other religious groups would not dare hesitate to speak out in the current climate. Even within Christianity, the Old Testament-obsessed Evangelical Ten Commandments are given priority by Old Testament-obsessed Evangelicals over the slightly more challenging Beatitudes. The meek are having a bad time right no; sadly, only Satanists appear to be standing up for them.

All is not running smoothly within the world of Satanism, however. Some TST adherents seem to advocate for a little more than a fun form of atheism, with rituals and costumes, at least partly derive from Dungeons and & Dragons. Others appeared to take the call to advocate for transgression a little somewhat more seriously. One activist, who had called for the murder of the current US president found herself ostracised by the mainstream Satanis movement, struggling with their desire to be more mainstream and responsible. Being turfed out of a Satanist cult for being naughty is an accolade that few will ever achieve, though, and has its own merit.

Our current age is one of extremes. Now that the once carefully cultivated centre- ground in public life is now decried as a swamp, it is a sign of weakness to compromise or even listen to another point of view. In the TV interview of TST’s frontman Lucien Greaves on Fox News it is the strangely 'Steptford Wives'- looking interviewers who seem more bizarre to us. The mirthless laughter of incredulity of the anchorman who simply cannot comprehend that someone does not share his values reveals that the Satanists were invited on the air to be mocked, not heard. Theocracy will breed Satanists in the same way that absolute monarchies breed anarchists. Strap in, … we are in for a bumpy ride.

© Michael O’Neill


What I teach is medicine to cure specific illnesses. Nothing I teach is absolutely real.

(The Record of Rinzai)

When the trailer for Hail Satan? appeared in my Facebook timeline, the above quote came to mind. Rinzai’s famous and shocking exhortation: , “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” demonstrates the power to create an effect by transgression. In Buddhism, what makes the difference between a skilful and an unskilful act is the motivating principle. If it is based on greed or hatred or wrong views, then it is karmically conditioned to lead to suffering.

This principle is also understood in a Chinese idiom: “In the wrong hands, even right things go wrong. In the right hands, even the wrong things go right.”

Penny Lane’s documentary on The Temple of Satan (TST), piqued my interest, because in folklore, the role of the Devil is much more nuanced than the rather black- and- white depiction that I remember from my catechism classes as a child. Quite often, in folk tales, the Devil is summoned by as a result of some injustice, or by someone committing an act that transgresses the ‘natural order’ of things. Thus, in a curious way, he appears to bring some foul act to light, and to right a wrong. It is in this light that I saw the TST being conjured in response to a ‘wrong’, – that some people in the more religiously inclined states the US, perpetrate when they trample all over the principles of religious pluralism enshrined in the Constitution. Such deliberate blindness is called out by the Devil, playing the trickster figure role that he plays when he appears.

However, summoning th Devil is a dangerous business, for he is the arch-tempter as well. The temptation to overstep the line from non-violent protest into violence is an easy one to make when ‘right’ is on my side. There is a danger inherent in identifying with the a symbol rather than using the symbol as a vehicle for the message. (Hence one the TST member is thrown out of the sect when she calls calling for the death of the President.)

Transgression is a powerful instrument with which to protest. I feel that it requires great self-awareness not to lose the humanity that drives us to make the protest in the first place. If we do, then we risk becoming the very monster we set out to stop.

© Martin Goodson

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